Nobel Prizewinner Tom Cech speaks to IC Area High School students

Nobel Prize laureate Tom Cech spoke to students of West, City and Regina on Thursday.

George Liu, Reporter

Tom Cech speaks in Opstad Auditorium

Tom Cech, Nobel Prize winner and member of City High’s class of 1966, spoke to students of West, City and Regina at City High last week on Thursday. Cech received the prize in Chemistry for his work in the field of molecular biology. It was a Socratically organized speech, with Cech calling on members of the audience to pose questions about anything they wanted to learn. Cech answered common questions about his life and research, but also encountered questions about his spiritual beliefs, philosophy and interests.

As a child growing up in Iowa City, Cech had a passion for geology.

“In junior high, I would roam around town with my rock hammer, and whenever I encountered a rock, I broke it open with my hammer to see what was inside,” said Cech.

His father, who Cech calls his most significant role model, was a very inquisitive man.

“When we would be taking a walk or driving in the car, he would always explain something about nature, and that made a big impression on me,” said Cech.

The turning point of Cech’s education was in graduate school at UC Berkeley, where he was at a loss when deciding what to do for his PhD thesis.

“I was [introduced] to chromosomes, and I thought that they were really interesting so I joined the group that was studying them,” said Cech.

Buoyed by his knowledge of molecular biology, he later studied protozoa at the University of Colorado Boulder, his research culminating in his acceptance of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of previously unknown properties of RNA.

As an educator, teaching and inspiring his students remains his greatest achievement.

“I am most proud of the students that I helped train that have gone on to do great things,” said Cech.

“I believe that what makes us human is the drive towards working together to make a better world, and I try to participate in that whenever I can.”

— Tom Cech

When asked about how his spiritual beliefs impacted his life, he said, “I believe that what makes us human is the drive towards working together to make a better world, and I try to participate in that whenever I can.”

With educating a new generation of scientists among his many contributions, Cech remains a diverse and inspirational character. He demonstrated how a young passion can grow, many times without a clear path, into a career that can change the world. When asked for advice that contributed to his success, he simply said, “Treat people with respect, and listen before you talk.”

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